March 18

In the Spotlight Interview with illustrator Cherry Denman

Cherry Denman trained at Oxford’s Ruskin School of Drawing before going on to the Royal College of Art where she gained her MA. Cherry later taught art at Dorset Art College and City and Guilds in London. 

Cherry, you have illustrated a multitude of children and adult books, ceramics and comics amongst other things. Do you have a favourite medium?

It’s not so much about having a favourite medium…there is only one medium I am happy with and that is water colour. I put down layers of colour then “varnish” over the top with coloured pencils like a glaze. It creates a richness. I try oils every now and then but am useless at it…it’s like painting with porridge.

Your recent illustration of Hong Ying’ s wonderful book The Girl from the French Fort is set in Chongqing, China. How easy was it for you to depict China and the Chinese in your drawings? 

It was harder than I anticipated. They have no tradition of children’s illustration there and Disney and Manga cartoons have filled the void so I wasn’t sure how my style would go down. They are incredibly welcoming of new ideas at the same time as being suspicious of things they don’t recognize but luckily it seemed to go down well. The way they fill the page is very different. In China what you leave out is as important as what you paint. Big learning curve.

Where does your interest in botanical illustration come from? 

I grew up in the countryside lying about in fields with my nose rammed in books trying to avoid tidying my room. It was my only career choice really.

You contributed to the QI Annual, can you tell us a little about that? Was it as fun as it sounds?

The QI annuals were, quite honestly, my favourite job ever. I was told to do whatever I liked and be as rude as I liked. I laughed every day for months. It was playtime with a pencil. John Lloyd is a total hero as well as a good friend.

Is the beauty in the detail?

Detail is everything. Having spent so many years snuffling around in hedgerows and flower beds like a truffle pig, you find myriads of worlds within worlds. We tend to march past things in a whirl. Slow down. Investigate. Stop and rummage!

You have taught art at Dorset Art College and City and Guilds in London, what tips do you have for aspiring illustrators?

Observe, observe, observe! Looking is for amateurs; observing is for the truly interested. Draw everything and anything… take copious notes. Your brain should be a dustbin of detail, but, as I learnt to my cost, it leaks. So take everything down!


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